Totem Pole Symbols and Meanings

Published on March 17, 2013 by Amy

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Totem Pole Symbols and Meanings
Totem Pole Symbols and Meanings

Totem Pole

This article relates to the Northwest Native American Indians Totem Pole Symbols and Meanings. What do the graphic carvings and coloring depicted on the totem pole mean?

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A totem pole depicts emblems of animals and mythological creatures that are believed to have spiritual significance and who watch over the families, clans, or tribes who adhere to the belief of Totemism. The Totem Pole symbolizes guardian spirits or helpers each of the animals, images and symbols have special and specific meanings. For additional information refer to Power Animals. Only six tribes of Northwest Indians create and construct the Totem Pole: the Haida, Tlingit, Bella Coola, Tsimshian, Kwakiutl and the West Coast tribe.

Totem Pole Symbols

The figures carved on a Totem pole might include a person, animals, birds or insects and might also display mythological and legendary images, usually Animal Spirits, whose significance was their association with the lineage of the tribe. The totem pole is built in three sections and the position of figures on the Totem pole are also significant.

The bottom section of the Totem Pole is the most important as it displays the symbols and images in the most visible and prominent position. Totem poles are read from bottom to top.

The top section of the Totem Pole often display flamboyant portrayals of Mythical creatures and monsters such as the Thunderbird and the Haida tribe artists might often place three Watchmen with tall hats on top of their Totem Pole creations

Other mythical creatures such as a scaly double-headed serpent called Sisiutl, the thunderbird and a supernatural shape-shifting bird called Kolus might also be featured.

Identifying Totem Pole Symbols and Images

The images carved on the Totem Pole were carved to represent human and animal faces rather than to look exactly like them. Each figure bore an identifying symbol. Erect ears on a Totem Pole figure distinguished an animal from a man. The killer whale had a protruding dorsal fin, and the eagle, a curved beak.

Totem Pole Symbols – Tribal Totems

The totem pole symbols often used by the Northwest Indians included their tribal totems. Refer to Animism and Animal Totems for the meanings of many of their symbols

The totem pole symbols of the Tlingit tribe included the raven, frog, goose, sea lion, owl, salmon, beaver, codfish, skate, wolf, eagle, bear, killer-whale, shark, auk, gull, sparrow-hawk

The totem pole symbols of the Haida were the eagle, killer-whale, black bear, loon, woodpecker, thunderbird (mythical), hawk, wolf, dogfish, owl, otter, grizzly bear, sea lion, mountain goat

The totem pole symbols of the Tsimshian were the raven, codfish, starfish, eagle, halibut, beaver, whale, wolf, crane, grizzly bear, bear, killer whale, dolphin

The totem pole symbols of the other three tribes included the beaver, frog, raven, dogfish, halibut, land otter, starfish and hummingbird

Source: warpaths2peacepipes Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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